Storyboard: Stan Kong

Mentorship has no expiration date

One of the funny things about mentorship is that it doesn’t end in the classroom. Really, it doesn’t ever end—that is, if you remain curious and engaged throughout your life.

Mentorship itself has no expiration date. I’ve been a teacher for most of my career, but my job hardly ends when I pack up my things for the day. Let’s say a student wants to grab some personal time to talk with me about their portfolio. Maybe they just want to blow off steam due to a particularly stressful assignment. As a mentor, my only job is to be there for the student.

As far back as I can remember I’ve always been a maker of things. Growing up in the 1960s, my family never had much. In my spare time I started making things out of found flotsam. Odds and ends became my weapon of choice, artistically speaking. One time I made a checkers set with paper from school, crayons and soda pop bottle caps as the pieces, all so I could have something to play with. This obsession turned into art and shop in junior high and high school, which eventually turned into the discovery of a little thing called “product design.”

It was during my time at Pasadena City College that I first heard mention of ArtCenter College of Design, which was out of the question for me to attend. On a basic level, I simply couldn’t afford it—to say it would have been an unwise move financially would be an understatement. And yet, as a young man, I found myself possessed by blind ambition. I was going to attend the school if it was the last thing I did.

I never forgot the days when all I could think about was attending ArtCenter, in spite of having to wrestle with the reality that I might never end up there. It’s why I feel compelled to give back to the school in the way that I do—in both the philanthropic sense, as well as committing more of my time and energy.

Of course, once I put my portfolio together and was eventually accepted, it was challenging. Anything worth having is not attained easily. ArtCenter pushes you past your limits, beyond what you think you’re capable of, and expands the parameters of your artistic toolkit in the process.

Some years later, ArtCenter invited me to teach a high school level design course, which was a great honor. Instantly I realized that something about my interactions with these young people energized me. It gave me a buzz just to be around them. I was able to see thoughts forming in their minds, their identities as artists taking shape. Art classes had been my safe haven as a young kid, so I felt an almost parental sense of responsibility for the kids in my class. This led to me being asked to start an evening class on product and transportation design.

I consider the bond with my students a sacred one. For me, it is not enough to teach them the nuts and bolts of how to do things. My job is to teach them about themselves. What resonates in their soul? What are their principles? Is it a love of animals or religion or metaphysical curiosity that propels their work forward? That is my job: to help these young people turn their passions into an extension of who they are as human beings. It was through this that I came to realize that teaching—being a true mentor—was the greatest reward I had ever experienced.

Yours truly,

Stan Kong
BS 1983 Product Design
Faculty, Graduate Industrial Design/ArtCenter at Night

ArtCenter pushes you past your limits, beyond what you think you're capable of, and expands the parameters of your artistic toolkit in the process.

Support ArtCenter

Create possibilities for students at ArtCenter and amplify their impact on the world.